There’s a gleam in Raul Ruidiaz’s eyes the Sounders have seen before.
The striker tested positive for COVID-19 in October 2020 while in Peru with his national team. He was asymptomatic and after 10 days in isolation to prevent any spread of the virus, he was cleared to return to the U.S. In his first match with the Sounders, Ruidiaz played like a person grateful to back on the soccer field, recording a goal and assist in a win against Vancouver that also sealed a playoff berth.
Being snubbed from the national team’s Copa America roster has amped that passion, again, according to Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer and teammate Cristian Roldan. And there are few opponents better to prove a point against than Seattle’s matchup against the Los Angeles Galaxy on Saturday.
Ruidiaz is hungry to help the Sounders (5-0-3) attempt to continue the momentum that carried to their best start in franchise history. He’s also motivated to Ruidiaz try to surpass Galaxy star Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez in MLS’s leading goal-scorer race. Ruidiaz has six while Chicharito leads with seven.
“When you don’t get called into the national team you almost see the level of play increase,” Roldan said. “I’ve seen that in training for Raul. But I’m hoping that’s the case in games.
“We expect Raul to score many, many more goals this year. If he uses this not getting called into Peru as motivation, that will be the best case for us. So, I’m excited for him because what better game for him to come back to?”
Schmetzer was more succinct when talking about the Peruvian’s mindset since the FIFA international break.
“He is motivated,” Schmetzer said.
There were still some kinks for the Sounders to work out in preparation for their first match since May 30. Seattle ended the first portion of the season with two draws after opening the 2021 slate by scoring 10 goals in four matches.
Schmetzer noted during a videoconference call with media on Thursday that there were some lulls at training. He gave the team and technical staff a six-day layoff.
“For us, this break is convenient in some sense, inconvenient in others,” Schmetzer said. “I laid it out there to the team the other day because they weren’t sharp in training. I said, ‘Look, you guys have to understand you haven’t played a game in three weeks. There’s going to be some time in the game where you might not be as clean as you normally are. What that requires is just a little bit more concentration.’”
The 1-1 result against Atlanta United on May 23 was particularly telling as the Eastern Conference club appeared to be the first to find success against the Sounders’ new formation that features two forwards and three center backs.
L.A. (5-2-0) could use similar tactics in the matchup at Dignity Health Sports Park. Chicharito was shutout by the Sounders in a 3-0 loss at Lumen Field earlier this season. The Galaxy’s last game was a 1-0 home win against San Jose on May 29.
“We learned a little bit from the two games, the way Atlanta kind of matched us tactically,” Schmetzer said. “The Galaxy, we have an idea that they might try to match us with playing with three center backs. We’ll see if that manifests itself. We’re preparing for that. … Hopefully what we’ve learned from those last two games pushes us over the edge and we can win a few more games.”
The Sounders’ upcoming schedule compounds the difficult return to MLS play. The club has three matches in an eight-day stretch, hosting Real Salt Lake (June 23) and Vancouver (June 26) next week.
They’ll also be without center back Xavier Arreaga, who’s with his Ecuador national team competing in the Copa America tournament. Recent signee Abdoulaye Cissoko could receive the nod to start.
“It’s going to be tricky,” said left wingback Brad Smith, who returned early from international duty with Australia due to a minor injury. “Coming off a break into a three-game week is going to be tough. We know what we’ve got to do. We’ve got to be resilient.”